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Austrian habits For Members

Do Austrians still use the formal 'Sie' in German?

Julia Hjelm Jakobsson
Julia Hjelm Jakobsson - [email protected]
Do Austrians still use the formal 'Sie' in German?
Young people working together in a group. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

In Austria, addressing people with "Sie" has been a tradition for quite some time. However, has this tradition become more relaxed in recent years? And if so, how?

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In Austria, people have been using "Sie" as a formal way of addressing each other for decades, if not centuries.

Using "Sie" is deeply integrated with Austrian culture and has been passed down through generations as a sign of respect and politeness.

But even if "Sie" is still commonly used in Austria today, younger generations tend to use it less frequently than older ones, and the more informal "Du" is increasing in popularity, Vienna's IKI language academy told The Local.

The 'du' form has gained popularity

In general, using "du" is accepted in less formal settings or when you know someone well.

Over time, the use of "Sie" has decreased in informal and semi-official contexts in Austria, according to the IKI language academy.

The informal "du" form has gained popularity, especially among younger people and in digital communication. In social media, informal meetings, and among friends, the "du" form is more commonly used.

Heike Ziehr, Head of the German Language Department at Sprachenzentrum in Vienna, also agreed that "du" is gaining popularity but added that he does not think it's appropriate in certain situations.

"'Du' is spreading, in social media, leisure time, or at workshops. In the mountains, people always use "du" above 2,000 meters. Occasionally, students address me informally at the university, then I point out to them that it is not appropriate. Sometimes there is a high level of familiarity between teachers and students, and then "du" is often used. I do not recommend it in a professional context", he said.

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Formal and official situations

How "Sie" is used among the different generations depends on the situation and who is involved in it.

"Sie" is mainly used in formal and official situations in Austria. You use "Sie" in conversations with strangers, in professional contexts, during official appointments, in stores, and generally in scenarios where respect and distance are expected to be maintained.

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It is also common to address older people or those in higher positions with "Sie", as a sign of respect and acknowledgement.

Some examples of situations where you are expected to use "Sie" include when you have a doctors appointment, in formal business settings such as meetings with customers, or in daily life situations where you engage with strangers, such as in restaurants or other service establishments, especially when speaking to staff members.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Austria wants to define its fundamental culture but what is it?

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